Following their decisions to extend Ryan Kelly and Braden Smith, the Colts figured to have the same plan for their top offensive lineman. They do, and a Quenton Nelson extension — with the three-time All-Pro guard entering his fifth-year option season — shifts to the forefront in 2022.
“Quenton’s a Colt,” Colts GM Chris Ballard said, via Joel Erickson of the Indianapolis Star. “We want him to be a Colt long-term. When we do the contract, we’ll work through that.”
Obviously instrumental in Jonathan Taylor winning the rushing title by more than 500 yards, Nelson landing his fourth first-team All-Pro honor may well be on tap. Nelson is the only offensive lineman since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger to earn such acclaim in each of his first three seasons. To lock down Nelson, the Colts will almost definitely need to authorize a guard-record contract — perhaps by a notable margin.
Joel Bitonio and Joe Thuney‘s $16MM-per-year deals represent the high-water mark at guard. Nelson should command north of $20MM annually, Erickson suggests. That would be a market-shifting accord and tie the Colts to three high-end O-line deals.
Drafted sixth overall in 2018, Nelson has teamed with Kelly and Smith to give the Colts a top-tier offensive front. The team has Kelly tied to the third-richest center deal; Smith’s pact sits fourth among right tackles. Right guard Mark Glowinski just played out a midlevel deal (three years, $16.2MM), and left tackle Eric Fisher is also set for free agency in March.
The Colts resisted moving Nelson to left tackle during Fisher’s injury hiatus, and although Chris Reed adequately replaced Nelson during his four missed games this season, Ballard confirmed Nelson is not changing positions.
“Why would you move a Hall of Fame left guard to left tackle?” Ballard said. “It makes no sense to me. And look, he’s got a ways to go to be a Hall of Famer, but why would you move a great player to left tackle? We’re not doing it.”
The franchise tag in 2023 would be an option for the Colts, should they have second thoughts about a market-topping extension. The team has not operated that way under Ballard, having not used the tag since 2013. Indianapolis is projected to rank among the top 10 in cap space going into the 2022 league year.